WASHINGTON: US President Donald said on Tuesday that he would do his best to mediate in the “explosive and complicated” Kashmir dispute between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.
Talking to reporters at the White House, President Trump said he would discuss this possibility over the weekend with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two leaders are slated to meet at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, this weekend.
“Kashmir is a very complicated place. You have Hindus and you have the Muslims and I wouldn’t say they get along so great,” President Trump said. “I will do the best I can to mediate.”
The US leader first offered to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir at a White House news conference with Prime Minister Imran Khan on July 22. Mr Khan immediately accepted the offer, saying that over a billion people would pray for the US leader if he helped resolve the issue.
India, however, declined the offer, saying that it wanted no external assistance for talks with Pakistan on Kashmir or any other issue.
“I really get along with both (Mr Modi and Mr Khan) of them. As you know, Prime Minister Khan was here just recently. I will be with PM Modi … over the weekend in France,” Mr Trump said at his Oval Office press talk.
Indian scholar suggests US leader already playing the role of a mediator
“I think, we are helping (resolve the tense) situation” between India and Pakistan, he added.
Mr Trump said there’s a “tremendous problem” between the two countries. “It’s a complicated situation. A lot has to do with religion. Religion is a complicated subject.”
The US president said the Subcontinent was having “these talks for hundreds of years, even under different names”.
In a tweet released late on Monday, Mr Trump said he had reached out to his “good friends” — the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers — to help reduce tensions in Kashmir.
Although the president’s move fits the classical definition of mediation between two parties who are refusing to talk to each other, a senior official of the US Department said it’s not.
“The president is not mediating but has offered to do so if asked by both parties,” the official said. India refuses to accept any external help in resolving its disputes with Pakistan and is particularly sensitive about Jammu and Kashmir which, it insists, is an internal issue.
President Trump’s mediation — even though the State Department doesn’t describe it as such — began last Friday when Prime Minister Khan called the US leader and spoke to him for 12 minutes about the situation in Occupied Kashmir.
On Monday, Prime Minister Modi called Mr Trump and spoke for 30 minutes, complaining about his Pakistani counterpart’s allegedly “incendiary rhetoric”, which he said was destabilising the region.
Soon after listening to his “good friend” in India, the US president called his other “good friend, in Pakistan, and told him that there was a need for him to tone down his rhetoric and reduce tensions”.
In his conversation, according to a White House readout, Mr Trump “reaffirmed the need to avoid escalation of the situation and urged restraint” on both sides.
Then the president went to Twitter to announce that he: “Spoke to my two good friends, Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Khan … most importantly, for India and Pakistan to work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir”.
Although President Trump said that he had also discussed “trade and strategic partnerships” with the two South Asian leaders, the tweet made it clear that it was the situation in Kashmir that persuaded him to reach out to his friends in India and Pakistan.
“A tough situation but good conversations” is how he described his conversation with the two prime ministers.
“Now, if this does not sound like mediation, what does?” asked Indian scholar Manoj Joshi in an article published in India Today on Tuesday.
“You can be sure that given the rhetoric from New Delhi and Islamabad, there must be more happening in the deep recesses of the State Department and the Pentagon,” Mr Joshi added.
The State Department official, who briefed journalists in Washington on Tuesday, said President Trump’s interest in both India and Pakistan was not new. It reflected in “his South Asia strategy, and in the Af-Pak policy, which also outlined India’s role” in maintaining peace in the region.
Mr Trump’s latest call to Mr Khan was his third conversation on Kashmir since Aug 5, when India revoked a constitutional provision that gave some autonomy to the occupied Jammu and Kashmir state. India also imposed a curfew in the occupied region, which continued during the Eidul Azha holidays as well and has not been lifted yet.
Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2019